Demand for Nurses Growing

If nothing changes, all but a handful of states are projected to have a major nursing shortage within the next ten years.

Locally, steps are being taken to address the shortage before it gets worse.

According to the head of the nursing program at Meridian Community College, national statistics project almost one million vacancies in registered nursing by the year 2020.

The reason for this is multi-faceted. It ranges from a large aging population to more medical demands and more nurses nearing retirement.

In the Meridian area, officials say the need for nurses is not yet that critical. But there are mounting concerns about meeting the demands of the future.

As within other parts of the state and nation, the dean for the Meridian Community College Nursing Program says budget constraints limit the number of instructors.

"People with master's degrees in nursing, they're nurse practitioners or they're in hospital administration," said Dr. Betty Davis. "And it's far more lucrative to be there financially than it is to work for the state and be a nursing educator."

Because of state and federal mandates, fewer instructors mean fewer students in nursing programs. That's why Davis says well over half of the people who qualify to enter MCC's nursing program each year are not allowed to enter it.

Even with cuts on the front end, she says, once in the program, there are guidelines that must be followed when conducting on-site clinical sessions.

"Anderson and Rush, they're really good at working with us, but they only have so many slots for students," said Davis. "We use weekends, nights, and daytime, but we've pretty much saturated our clinical experiences."

To help meet the growing demand for nurses locally, for the last ten years Anderson and Rush Hospitals have teamed up to provide a $250,000 grant to MCC's nursing program.

Officials at Rush Hospital say they are also implementing other initiatives to help meet the growing need.

"I think we're the only hospital in the area that has a program, which in the last semester, we bring students in and let them work as a nurse with a nurse," said Donnie Smith, vice-president of Rush Hospital. "We proctor them. We also have a residency program where we select anywhere from 10 to 20 nurses after they graduate from college and we send them through an enormous amount of training."

That is adding to efforts to meet this area's nursing needs, now and into the future.

If more is not done to address the issue, officials say by the year 2020, a major shortage for registered nurses is projected for 44 states, and the District of Columbia.


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